"The Coming Apostasy", by Mark Hitchcock & Jeff Kinley (book review)

In their new book, Mark Hitchcock and Jeff Kinley discuss apostasy and its dangerous effects in the church.  The reader must first understand that Hitchcock and Kinley approach apostasy from the pre-millennial, pre-tribulation rapture point-of-view.  I'm not arguing for or against that view, but their approach is that the ever-increasing apostasy that is now already upon us is coming in greater intensity.

It is not a "heady" read, but is a rather simple read.  Mature believers who are familiar with Christian doctrine and theology will be able to speed read or skim through this book rather quickly.  For those who are not to that point, the information contained is quite worth reading and learning, and will be easy to understand without much struggle at all.

Some of the things I appreciate about this book is that they plainly tell the reader that theology -- what we believer -- really matters (p.18); that they explain further that while biblical belief matters, this belief cannot be merely "spiritual nodding of the head" (p.43); that having sound truth is our protection against the devil's lies (p.57); that they confront false teachers for what they are and for what they teach in their intentional or unintentional deceptions (p.59); and that they call sin what it is: sin (p.92)!

Some may wonder why I highlight these areas.  In a day and age when people twist the truth to make it palatable for their tastes, this book is refreshingly uncompromising in its presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There's not a lot I didn't like about it.  However, their use of the Message Translation of the Bible was troublesome to me.  Any preacher or author who quotes, cites, or otherwise uses the Message Translation instantly loses credibility with me.  It doesn't make me throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, but it is a trouble spot for me.  Clearly, the Message is not a reliable translation, as it distorts many key passages of Scripture.  To be fair, though, they didn't use it as the predominant source, but it was used frequently enough to make my eye twitch.

RATING: I give this one 3 1/2 stars.  Not a bad read, but not a fantastic read that challenged my thinking much at all.  That doesn't mean it's not a good read for someone, but it's simply that I would have been disappointed if I had spent the suggested retail price of $15.99 USD for it.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive or negative review of it.


"God the Son Incarnate", by Stephen J. Wellum (book review)

Make no mistake, "God the Son Incarnate" is a MASSIVE TOME on Christology...the study of Jesus.  Comprised of four parts, divided into 14 chapters, this volume was thoroughly researched.  How thorough, you ask?  There are 1,317 end note citations.  Simply phenomenal effort went into producing this book.

Dr. Wellum, who is the Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, takes readers carefully, academically, deeply into the study of who Jesus the Messiah is.  He explores the harmful effects that philosophical, scientific, and religious evolutions in thought processes has had upon Christology, all the way to delving into the mystery of the distinctions between his divinity and humanity.

Don't be fooled, this one is no easy read.  It is very technical, scholarly, and not one that would be considered a "page turner" by most peoples' accounts.  However, if you're looking for a great gift for your pastor, or maybe a seminarian, this may well be one for their library.  It will no doubt prove to be an effective tool for their study.

RATING: I give "God the Son Incarnate" 5 out of 5 stars for its deeply scholarly, well researched documentation of Christology.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book in ebook format free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review of it.


"Seven-Mile Miracle", by Steven Furtick (book review)

I'll be honest right at the outset: I requested this book for review, not because I especially like how Steven Furtick teaches (extremely charismatic, and light on the gospel of Jesus Christ) or writes, but because I wanted to read what he is presently up to; to read what is attracting people to Elevation Church (besides the quality of music they produce).  I read and reviewed another of his books ("Sun Stand Still") in the past, and I wasn't overly impressed.  So I fully expected this one to be very much the same.

If you've never read or listened to Steven Furtick, take a moment and watch any number of his videos. You'll learn that he is a gifted and passionate speaker who can easily captivate audiences.  Sadly, the majority of what he teaches (that I've ever read or watched) glazes over the gospel of Jesus Christ, misses sin, repentance, God's holiness and wrath, our need for a Savior, etc.  I tell you this to give you a little background before providing my review.

ENDORSEMENTS:  One can usually get a good idea about a particular title by looking at who endorses it.  I certainly would have passed right over "Seven-Mile Miracle", simply due to who endorses it.  The names include Lysa TerKeurst (Proverbs 31 Ministries), Judah Smith (The City Church, Seattle), Christine Caine, Brian Houston (Hillsong), Craig Groeschel (LifeChurch.TV), Andy Stanley (North Point Church), and T.D. Jakes (The Potter's House).  By the way, the endorsements page read at the top, "Praise for Other Titles by Steven Furtick" (emphasis mine). 
Would this suggest those whose names are listed didn't even read this book, but simply endorsed it because they are Furtick's friends?  I digress.

PREMISE: The title, "Seven-Mile Miracle", is a combination of two portions of scripture.  First, the road to Emmaus was approximately 7 miles long, and Jesus walked with two disciples on that road, speaking with them after his resurrection.  Second, there were 7 "last words" of Jesus on the cross.  Each mile (aka, chapter) of the "journey" is each successive utterance from the cross.

GOSPEL: I'll be honest, this book was chock-full of gospel proclamation - sin, repentance, holiness, etc.  It's there.  Readers cannot escape being confronted by the gospel of Jesus Christ in this book.  I can even say, I've scoured the book looking to find who wrote it for Mr. Furtick, because it simply sounds so unlike anything else I've seen from him. I will be the first to admit that I'd like to be wrong about Furtick.  I hope there is a change in what he speaks, that he would eschew the fluff message of hype that is so popular today, and that the Holy Spirit would inspire him to carefully teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Time will tell.

CHAPTER 7: In the chapter entitled, "Into the Presence of God", I think Furtick would do well to be more careful about a particular application.  Furtick builds upon T.D. Jakes's prior teachings regarding being "Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given" (beginning on p.157).  In it, he structures a main point around the events of Jesus serving the Passover meal to his disciples, where he "Took bread", "Gave thanks", "Broke it", an "Began to give it to them".  Furtick and Jakes suggest this is a pattern seen in scripture. And since it's a pattern, it must also apply to us.

They suggest that as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus were each taken from a particular circumstance, blessed, broken by God, and then given to the people, our lives follow the same pattern.  While I think I understand the point attempted to be made, I think it is a potentially misleading or dangerous one.  Suggesting such a pattern is applicable to us may actually minimize the Messiah's brokenness in his crucifixion, because it fails to take into account that Jesus was fully crushed under the weight of the Father's wrath poured out on him for sin.  At the same time, such a pattern suggestion tempts us to elevate our "brokenness" as being on par with that of the Messiah's.

RECOMMENDATION: I think "Seven-Mile Miracle was decent. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.  It's not very deep, but it my be appreciated by those who are new to faith in Jesus Christ.  I still won't follow him or purchase his materials, but my rating of this book stands alone on its own merits.  I'm simply trying to give you an honest review.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Multnomah Publishers (Blogging for Books) in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review of it.


"Unlimited Grace", by Dr. Bryan Chapell (book review)

I received Unlimited Grace for review via Crossway's blog review program, and I must begin by stating that I absolutely loved it!  I devoured it, actually.  In an age when all sorts of false gospels and false Jesuses are proclaimed, this book is important.  

The overall theme of the book is to walk readers through a detailed, but easy-to-read-and-comprehend, understanding of biblical grace.  Many are tempted to believe that the experience of God’s grace gives license to sin freely without remorse.  But that is not the view of biblical grace, but one of cheap grace.  Instead, when a sinner experiences God’s amazing grace, s/he can’t help but love the people and things God loves, and therefore, live a life that pleases and honors Almighty God.

Dr. Chapell taught and reminded his readers that we cannot earn God's grace, but that He extends it to us because of His loving character.  This grace -- both common and special grace -- is what ought to drive people to the presence of God. 

I was inspired, challenged, and blessed by 20 of the book’s 21 chapters.  But I have to admit, I had to re-read chapter 20 two additional times.  It covered the ever challenging topic of hell.  Because I agreed with Dr. Chapell’s theology through the majority of the book, I admit I may have misinterpreted his intent.  Hence, the re-reads.
Questions I Pondered in Chapter 20:

He wrote at location 1984 of 3036 (because I read the Kindle version):
     “If escaping God’s judgment is all that motivates, then most are unlikely to love him as he requires.  Most peoples’ initial love for Christ stems from his rescue from the present “hell” of their earthly existence: loneliness, emptiness, guilt, shame, depression, slavery to addiction, relational trauma, and so on.  That is why Jesus was being true to the human experience as well as his spiritual task when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  He understood that the pains of this life could be as compelling as the threats of the next.”

   My concern is with the second sentence in the paragraph just quoted.  Here's why: Did Jesus come to merely save us from bad relationships, addictions, debt, and any other "despairs of this life"?  Or did he come to save sinners from God’s wrath, paying the penalty for our sins, and thus, making us holy and in right standing before God?  I lament that far too many people “come to Jesus" because they hope a "genie-in-a-bottle Jesus" will fix their ailing circumstances. 

On the heels of this passage, Dr. Chapell wrote at location 1994 of 3036:
    “Early in their Christian experience most people have no concept of what they have done that would deserve eternity in hell.  Even if they echo thoughts they have heard from a pulpit, or feel deep and profound guilt, few could identify why they would deserve an eternal hell of suffering for their sin.”

   Again, I may be misunderstanding Dr. Chapell here, for it appears that he suggests that a sinner can be truly converted apart from seeing the penalty their (our) sins deserve?  Is the kind of turning to Jesus for merely financial or marital healing the same as turning to – and trusting – Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and to be made right with God?  Is “profound guilt” the same as Holy Spirit conviction that brings about true repentance and conversion?  Are those who "have no concept" of their sins’ due penalty truly converted?  The whole of Scripture teaches that true conversion occurs when a sinner recognizes his/her sin, is convinced s/he needs a savior, and trusts that Savior to be Jesus only, and that the sinner recognizes his/her need to repent of sin.

 I would prefer to ask Dr. Chapell these questions personally, but alas.  Nevertheless, I truly appreciate this book.

Rating: Other than the chapter written above, I truly liked the book.  Overall, I think this would be an excellent read for new and growing believers alike.

I give Unlimited Grace 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this ebook free of charge from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and were not forced upon me.


"Expositional Preaching", by David Helm (book review)

I welcomed the opportunity to review “Expositional Preaching”, by David Helm when it was offered by Crossway Publishing.  This is one of many thoughtfully helpful books offered in the IX Marks (9 Marks)ministry series, and it was well worth the short amount of time it took to read it.  It’s just a little book, comprised of only an Introduction, 4 chapters, and a Conclusion.

You may wonder how a book on expositional preaching could be helpful to a non-preacher.  Many of us who are not preachers enjoy theological studies and application. After all, we are all theologians in one way or another.  What I enjoyed about this book as a non-preacher was that it provided me with three helpful insights. First, it makes me more aware of what to look for and expect from preachers and my own pastor.  Second, it makes me aware of research techniques that good preachers should employ.  And so it seems that if good preachers should practice it, then it could also aid my personal study. Third, the application of Helm's insights places just a few more tools in my belt to make me that much more effective whenever I teach or facilitate small group studies in the future.

One set of thoughts that resonated deeply with me was that of bathing the preaching of God’s word in prayer: praying during the preparation, during the presentation, and following its presentation.  While the point was made for preachers, I think it rightly can/should apply to those of us sitting in the seats, submitting to the authority of God’s word.  I am reminded to pray for my pastor from Monday to Saturday, that he would be of a clear mind as he studies.  I am reminded to prayerfully listen intently to God’s word as it is being spoken, to heed the promptings and convictions of the Holy Spirit in my own heart and mind.  Finally, I am reminded to pray that we who are listening might be changed and convicted by the preaching of God’s word as we wrestle with the truth in our lives.

I think a book like this is a must-have, useful tool for preachers and pew-sitters alike.  Sadly, good, biblical, expositional preaching has gone the way of the dinosaur, but is so desperately needed today.  If people were more aware of what to expect, and if preachers were more aware of what should be expected of them, and more in tune with how to be more effective communicators of God's word, I can only imagine the powerful change the Word of God could bring about in today’s listeners.

Recommendation: I give “Expositional Preaching” 5 out of 5 stars.  Get a copy today; you won’t be disappointed!

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"NKJV Know the Word Study Bible" (book review)

I received the NKJV Know the Word Study Bible free of charge as part of the BookLook Bloggers review program in exchange for an unbiased review of it.  This 1900-page Bible is published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and comes with a concordance and maps.  But there are other features, which I'll discuss here.

Dimensions: The Bible measures approximately 8-3/4" x 5-3/4" x 1-3/8" and weighs maybe around 1 pound.  Not big, not heavy.  Perfect for carrying to/from school/work, etc.

Topic-by-Topic articles are scattered throughout, but there is a nice index at the beginning of the Bible that directs the reader to what page a topical article can be found.  This comes in handy if a reader is looking to study a topic of his/her choosing at any particular time.  Otherwise, the reader can read the articles as they arrive while reading the biblical text. 

 Should the reader stumble across an article or word study that is of particular interest, there exists a footnote at the bottom of said article/note that directs the reader to either the next or the previous topical study.
 The articles or word studies are not all that lengthy, but provide just enough to serve as fodder for deeper digging.  To go deeper, one would simply employ heavier tools like exhaustive concordances, systematic theology resources, etc.  I doubt this study Bible was intended to be the final resource on all study materials, but rather as a simple introduction and invitation for readers to go deeper into God's word.

A nice 2-page feature exists following the last page of Malachi, and immediately preceding Matthew's gospel.  This section briefly outlines various eras of human history and some of the more significant events that took place until the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus.

 Of course, this Bible comes equipped with the red letters for Jesus's words.  It's not a mandatory thing, but is helpful to the reader who thinks to him/her-self when trying to find a passage, "Jesus said such-and-such, so where would I find it?"  The red letters simply help narrow down one's searching.

Finally, I've attached a photo of a pencil next to the type font so you can see just how small or large the print is for your liking.  There are decent (not huge) margins on the sides and bottoms of the pages for notes.  But if those areas are not enough, there are several pages with a lot of clean space for writing short notes.
Rating: Overall, I give this Bible just 3 1/2 stars out of 5.  It is simple, but provides some helpful resources for study.  It wouldn't be my first choice of study Bibles, but it might be useful for new or young believers to whet their appetites for more of God's word.


"Why the Reformation Still Matters", by Michael Reeves & Tim Chester (book review)

"The reformation is over!", many suggest.  "There is no more need for squabbling over small matters."

Is the Reformation over? 
Is there no more need to dispute? 
And were the protestations really over small matters? 

Authors Michael Reeves and Tim Chester address not only that the Reformation is NOT over (after all, Semper Reformanda -- always reforming), but that it MUST continue.  The true Church must always be about keeping in line with the doctrines of God, and any stray teaching must be corrected immediately before it tailspins out of control.  As Reeves and Chester observed, "It was not the Reformers who had departed from the true church.  It was Rome that had departed from the true gospel" (p.165). 

JUSTIFICATION: Reeves and Chester begin the book with the driving doctrine of the Reformation: Justification.  To be justified is a matter of being declared right by God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, who paid the full penalty for the sins of those who would but trust him.  As Reeves and Chester explain, justification "does not mean to make righteous" (as Catholic theology suggests) "or to change a person, but to reckon righteous, to declare righteous, to acquit" (p.29).  A sinner, apart from Christ, cannot grow righteous and, therefore, become righteous in God's sight.  No.  A sinner is declared righteous, and that forgiven saint now grows in the righteousness that is already his. This is no small matter that must be cherished by the forgiven sinner, for it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once grasped, the truly converted can rest assured in being completely at peace with God.

LAYOUT: Throughout the book, Reeves and Chester handle additional doctrines pertaining to Scripture, Sin, Grace, Theology of the Cross, Union with Christ, The Spirit, The Sacraments, The Church, Everyday Life, & Joy and Glory.  The book is packed full with reference quotations from numerous Reformers (Calvin, Sibbes, and Hus to name a few), with the most prominent being Luther, of course.  But it's not merely a book that regurgitates what long-dead Reformers wrote, but a careful handling of the doctrines that make Reformed Theology reformed.

RESONATION: There were so many quotable passages in this book, that I wish I had the print version for easier access to those highlights than my e-reader provides.  In fact, I'll probably purchase the print copy anyway.  Rather than pull any number of quotes from the book to prove that it was worth the read from cover-to-cover, I'd prefer to address an area that resonated with me throughout the book.

Here it is: Many -- far too many -- pastors today have abandoned teaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and too many congregations have allowed it to happen. Solid teaching about the real Jesus Christ of the Bible and what he accomplished seems to have taken a back seat to the jesus of the false Prosperity Gospel, Therapeutic Gospel, Social Gospel, etc.  False teaching has grown rampant, and many sheep in the pews do not realize the danger they face in adopting these "other gospels".  The sheep, instead, desire only to have their ears tickled, rather than be confronted by the truth of the cross.  The Reformation STILL matters today, and it must continue.

RATING: I give "Why the Reformation Still Matters" 5 stars out of 5 for it's biblical handling of crucial doctrines, for its clarity and readability, and most importantly, for its solid presentation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you are encouraged by reading any of the Reformers' work, or reading about the Reformation and its doctrines, you'll want to add this book to your library.

DISCLAIMER: I received the e-book version of this title free of charge from Crossway Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  I was not required to provide a positive review.  All opinions are mine.